J Steps is a fantastic new initiative in jazz led by UK jazz saxophonist Hannah Horton as part of Guildhall Young Artists, in Saffron Walden, England. Hannah has formulated a band of motivated and inspired musicians with its main aim being to tackle the historic lack of representation of women in jazz. Open to anyone who is 18 and under and identifies as female or non-binary, the musicians are already experienced musicians, but they may not all have experience of playing jazz or improvising as soloists. Rehearsals include genre specific guidance from Hannah, and the band plays and explores standards, originals and improvisation. Each member brings their individual sound and vibe to this ever evolving group.
Women in Jazz Media are thrilled to have J Steps as part of the final night of their EFG London Jazz Festival event, which will be their first gig. The name J steps came out of Hannah reflecting on learning and development with no gender bias which led her to the title Giant Steps, with steps being the steps taken in learning and development. This in turn, led to Jazz Steps and then…J Steps! We caught up with Hannah to find out a little more.
Tell us about J Steps – how many young women are there and what are you trying to achieve?
We have 14 amazing young and talented young women. J Steps was created to give female and non binary identifying young musicians a creative space to learn, explore and develop their love and interest in jazz and improvisation. Women have been a minority in jazz since the beginning, and there is a new energy in the UK jazz scene to address this inequality. There are more young female jazz instrumentalists who are making waves and challenging the status quo than ever but we still have a very long way to go.
We know there has always been an historic lack of representation of women in jazz, especially instrumentalists, but what led you to create this group now?
Although J Steps was born in July this year, I originally came up with the idea nearly two years ago. As a teenage jazz lover and learner I attended many local and national jazz ensembles, but I was always one of only a handful of (at most!) women there. Sometimes I felt under confident soloing with the imbalance and now, as an established artist, I really want to nurture the talent of young players like those in J Steps and help their growth as musicians. I’m blown away by what they have already achieved in such a short space of time. Thanks to Saffron Centre, Guildhall Young Artists, I have been able to collaborate with them and form J Steps in a safe and creative environment for young people.
J Steps is a community based collective, but one where individuality is also important. How do you encourage the musicians to feel free to be themselves while also being part of a group?
From the first rehearsal each and every member of J Steps have always brought their own and individual personality and style to the group. They are an amazing group of individuals with a mutual interest in jazz and it’s that aspect that brings these individuals together. In our sessions J Steps learn about jazz theory such as guide-tones and modes along the way. With this knowledge they can then improvise confident in their note choice yet simultaneously in their own personal style.
Are there any particular moments or achievements that you would like to mention in J Steps work so far?
I think our first big highlight is about to happen, playing at LJF thanks to WIJM! From a more personal and ‘mentor’ view, highlights for me are witnessing the ensemble blend and develop as a whole, seeing the individuals gain in confidence as fantastic musicians, and also having them express their ideas about repertoire and arrangements and helping to mould their own group.
J Steps first gig in front of an audience is for the Women in Jazz Media event as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Is everyone excited? What can the audience except to hear?
Yes, this will be our first gig and we are so excited! We are even designing our own logo and having hoodies and shirts made which we can style in our individual way and yet be part of the group. We have chosen to play a few jazz standards (from memory) which we have arranged in our own style, a few small jazz band charts and an original composition by me called ‘J Stepping’. We loved the idea of having our own theme tune!
Love that!! Do you have room for more musicians? If so, what do they need to do and what sort of skills are you looking for?
We are always open to new members and our next intake will be early 2022. If you are a female or a non binary identifying young musician with an interest in jazz and above grade 6 standard get in touch! You don’t need to have improvised before, but you need to want to learn and give it a go. J Steps are an amazing, friendly and supportive group of young musicians and new members are always warmly welcomed.
You are an incredibly busy artist in your own right and have just released a fantastic new album. How are you finding juggling all the activities you manage?
Firstly, that is really kind of you to say, thank you! Having just released ‘Inside Out’, and having such a positive response to my playing and compositions, has given me a boost to really put a lot of energy into the creative UK jazz world and to also want to give something back. Every time J steps meets we all leave the room full of energy and are excited about the group’s jazz future. The energy, buzz, excitement and fulfilment I get from all the jazz plates I’m spinning (other collaborations, future gigs, new compositions etc) is so exciting and tangible it makes the juggling worth it and total fun. To me, that’s what music is about. It’s hard work, but it’s also so creative and fantastic fun. Music is great to hang out with!
And finally, what is the best way to support J Steps?
J Steps is on social media and we are planning future gigs. Check us out!
Please support us by coming along to our first ever gig, it would mean so much to us!
Get in touch with us via social media or email email@example.com
Last modified: October 21, 2021